By VJM Divakar When the Telangana government decided to commence the 2022 Budget session of the State Assembly without the so-called customary Governor’s address to the joint session of the legislature, eyebrows were raised in certain sections criticising Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao. The criticism is mainly based on political intentions and these are the same […]
By VJM Divakar
When the Telangana government decided to commence the 2022 Budget session of the State Assembly without the so-called customary Governor’s address to the joint session of the legislature, eyebrows were raised in certain sections criticising Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao. The criticism is mainly based on political intentions and these are the same people who many a time vehemently opposed the Governor’s address alleging that it was nothing but a document written by the government. The motion of thanks was often filled with criticism of the same opposition.
Now the question is not whether it is proprietary to skip the Governor’s address or whether it is actually needed in the ever-changing scenario in the country’s political system. When there are umpteen chances in the legislature to highlight government’s achievements, do we still need this age-old customary system? Gone are the days when both, at the Centre and the States, it was one single party that ruled and appointments of Governors were taken for granted. Moreover, democratically elected governments were toppled thanks to the Governors in States like Kerala where it was under the non-Congress rule.
Various important and well-intentioned attempts were made both to understand the role of the Governor in our cooperative federal democratic setup and to recommend ways to make this institution conducive to strengthening Centre-State relations; for instance, the Administrative Reforms Commission of 1968, the Rajamannar Committee of 1969, Committee of Governors of 1971, Bangalore Seminar of Experts of 1983 and finally, the Sarkaria Commission of 1988.
All of them more or less agreed on one point, that the image of the Governor as merely an agent of the Centre sitting in State capitals and desperately seeking an opportunity to run down the State government when it is in the hands of a party opposed to the party ruling at the Centre or trying to bring about a government of the same party as at the Centre will deform our federalism and destroy our democracy. And all of them made extremely valuable recommendations to make the office of the Governor described as the “linchpin of the constitutional apparatus of the state.”
The test of a vibrant democracy lies in its capacity to review its institutions in tune with the changing times and needs in society. In our country, this cardinal principle is missing. Take for instance the institution of Governors. The subject was dealt with in depth in the Constituent Assembly like they did for every subject.
For the past several decades, a debate has been going on on the need of having the institution of Governor in the country and what purpose it is serving? Former Chief Minister of united Andhra Pradesh NT Rama Rao was against the institution of Governors and he opposed it tooth and nail. West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee is feeling the heat on a daily basis. Everyone knows what kind of a role the then in charge Governor of Tamil Nadu played to make EK Palaniswami the CM when there was trouble in the AIADMK. Hence, a re-look is necessary on whether the country needs the institution of Governors and their contribution to the very federal spirit of the Constitution.
Relic of Colonial Era
There was a heated debate in the Constituent Assembly in 1949 on the role of Governors. Members such as HV Kamath, KT Shah, Rohini Kumar Chaudhuri and Biswanath Das were critical of the powers of the Governor, viewing the position as a relic of the colonial era and one that was unanswerable and “capable of creating mischief.” Das, Prime Minister of Orissa in colonial India and later Governor of Uttar Pradesh, was one of the most vocal critics of the Governor’s position. He had presciently noted that since the Governor was appointed by the Centre, it was quite likely that s/he might not be acceptable in an opposition-ruled State, especially if the “power to give administrative pin-pricks is vested in the governor.”
As a compromise, BR Ambedkar had put forward a proposal that the Governor should be nominated by the President from among a panel elected by the provincial legislatures or State Assemblies. However, that proposal never made it to the Constitution. Subsequently, several State-appointed commissions recommended changes to the way Governors are appointed. The first Administrative Reforms Commission in 1969 said while the appointment should remain at the discretion of the Centre, chief ministers of respective States should be consulted. The Sarkaria Committee on Centre-State relations recommended in 1988 that only eminent persons who had not taken part in politics “in the recent past” should be appointed as Governors.
Ambedkar attempted to settle the misgivings by making a distinction between the “functions” and “duties” of a Governor. He concluded that s/he was not a representative of a “party” but of the “people” of the State. There was arguably enough ambiguity in this formulation for a Governor to be activist and partisan if s/he so desired.
Ambedkar’s faith in the Centre and Governors would be misplaced since most Governors, especially in recent times, have proved to be representatives of the party that appointed them and not impartial constitutional authorities. The very fact that Governors are expected to resign when there is a change of government at the Centre is proof of that. Indeed, the partisan actions of the Governors have borne out the fears of the critics in the Constituent Assembly.
Misuse of Office
There were several incidents when the Governors misused their office. One of the more famous examples was the dismissal of the SR Bommai (Janata Dal) government in Karnataka in 1989. The then Governor refused to allow the democratically elected Chief Minister to prove his majority on the floor of the Assembly.
The Governors of Andhra Pradesh and Goa who dismissed the governments led by NT Rama Rao and Wilfred D’Souza, respectively, showed the same partisan attitude. Uttar Pradesh Governor Romesh Bhandari’s actions were so blatantly partisan that he had to endure the Supreme Court’s disgrace of being censored. The most recent one (2018) was action taken by the Governor while forming a government in Karnataka. The Governor called a party to form the government, though it was not having a simple majority and gave some time to prove the majority. The Governor did not give the first preference to the other two parties with a post-poll alliance. This was solved with the intervention of the court.
Governor Arif Mohammed Khan is creating problems for the Kerala government on a day-to-day basis. He read out the Governor’s address but said he did not agree with it. WB Governor even went to the extent of stalling the Assembly session by declaring it as prorogued without the recommendation of the government and in the midst of a session.
Hence the time is right for a wide-range discussion on the need of institution of Governors. This is the time to retrospect, revise, debate and find a solution.
(The author is a senior journalist based in Hyderabad)